Stalemates, derby days and the world's busiest man

I got back from Villarreal at 4am on Wednesday morning after driving 300 kilometres to Barcelona.

The trip went well – lunch by the Ebro Delta yesterday and a visit to CD Castellon, the biggest club in the area before Villarreal’s recent rise. The staff at Castellon were very friendly. Gaizka Mendieta started his career there in 1991/92. If they are promoted I’ll go back and watch them play Villarreal as there’s a good story to be written.

The game between Man United and Villarreal finished 0-0 as it always does when the teams meet. Before the game I interviewed a drag queen dressed in Villarreal’s colours (pictured). She was advertising her services outside the main stand and was good value to speak to. I told her that I once had an 'escort' myself - a mark II - but it went over her lurid yellow hat.

As the stadium cleared and I waited for the world’s busiest man - aka the journalist Graham Hunter - Ray Houghton came over for a chat. I last met him in Villarreal three years ago and he’s excellent company. Graham did around 16 interviews in five minutes while we talked. He has that rare talent of not wasting a single word when on air – that’s why radio stations from Ireland to Botswana call him for his views. He once interviewed Pablo Aimar at Valencia and was the last to leave the ground. As he walked back to the centre, a man approached him. It was Aimar taking his dog for a late night walk.

“Your Spanish is very good,” he said to Hunter, “but I’ve been wondering where you are from.”

“Aberdeen, Scotland,” replied Hunter, doubtless before telling Aimar about how great Alex Ferguson’s Aberdeen side were and how Willie Miller was better than Maradona.

Once Hunter had taken another 45 phone calls, we left the main stand and walked out of the ground towards the mixed zone. Edmilson, the God-fearing Brazilian World Cup winner, strolled down the street wearing his Villarreal tracksuit. It coincided with the United fans being let out of the away end, yet nobody recognised him.

The mixed zone was the usual scrum, though it is neatly divided up by the different types of media – daily papers, Sunday papers, television, radio and Spanish media. I was working there for The Sunday Times. Ronaldo ignored all the journalists and Anderson was about to, saying that his English wasn’t good enough.

“What about in Spanish?” I asked.

“No problem,” he replied in Portuguese.

So we were away, me asking questions in Spanish and Anderson replying in Portuguese. I told him that I was going to his home city of Porto Alegre in January and he looked at me like I was not right.

I’m not a fan of mixed zones. It’s far better to sit down one-on-one to conduct an interview, a privilege I’ll have on Monday in Manchester when I’ll interview Anderson’s international team mate Robinho. Wonder if he’ll get a bus there to meet me?

That interview will be after I’ve spent the weekend in South Wales for Swansea vs Cardiff. I focussed on Swansea for the game in September and this time I’ll follow Cardiff, starting with a night out with the lads behind their ‘Soul Crew’ firm on Saturday night. That will only be one aspect of the piece, but they’ve been very helpful. As have Swansea City in all my dealings with them so far.

I’ll miss the Manchester derby as a result which is unfortunate, but I’ve long held the opinion that it’s one of the most underwhelming derbies in football. Unaccountably the atmosphere is rarely better than mediocre. For such a huge football city, Manchester’s encounter is nowhere near the top 10 in the world.

I’ll also miss a Manchester La Fianna friendly on Saturday. We dropped our first points of the season last weekend with a 1-1 draw against the Spanish West Ham (pictured after the game). Their players all sang ‘Fortune’s Always Hiding’ after the game in English. Bobby Moore would have been proud of the rendition.

My 14-year-old brother Sam came on for the last 15 minutes and did very well. Our players generously voted him man of the match, a slight problem as that means downing a large, cheap, neat whisky. I slipped an iced tea, which looks similar, into a glass but didn’t tell anyone. Sam knocked the ‘whisky’ back in one as his mum looked on open-mouthed. As did all the others. 

“I just thought... well, they are from Manchester, that’s what they do,” stated an onlooker as if we were some kind of sub-species who let their kids down whisky at 14.

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